CVRAN Hosts Gathering For Service Providers: How Can We Best Help Asylum Seekers?

November 28, 2023 0 Comments

On October 25th, 2023, sixteen service providers from Washington, Lamoille, and Chittenden Counties gathered in the Steele Room of the Waterbury Municipal Building. There was an eagerness to discuss the barriers asylum seekers face as they move into our area, to tell stories that make these barriers come more alive, and to wonder about possible solutions.  There was an urgency that came from personal experiences of the sheer numbers of new people now arriving in this area of Vermont and worrying about how to meet these new needs. “We are all humans and have feelings and needs,” said Evaristo Gutierrez of The University of Vermont Extension’s Bridges to Health.

Many of these service providers were just now putting faces to other service providers whose names they had only heard, and were glad to break down the sense of isolation often felt, each in their own professions and locations. “It’s nice to meet with other people experiencing the same challenges,” expressed Lindsay Crawford, Family Services Manager for Vermont Head Start. Hearing from each other brought realization of how wide the array of problems for asylum seekers is and what some solutions might be. There were one New Vermonter, three English Language Learner (ELL) teachers, two from Head Start, one Early Education interventionist, one social worker representing the local health clinic, two people from Bridges to Health, three people from different UVM hospital programs and the medical school in Burlington, and three people from CVRAN – including one former government official, a part-time staff person, and the president.

People talking in a meeting.Introductions led to discussions, problem sharing, stories and exploring potential solutions. The energy in the room never dwindled. An existing list of common barriers encountered by asylum seekers was built out with the suggestions below.  These will be melded with those from other events going on around the state. Then, work on advocacy will begin as ways open through the Vermont Asylum Action Network.

Key needs as articulated by this group of educators and health professionals follow, although more details were discussed.

Need increased awareness of sheer numbers of people arriving, and to make the necessary adjustments: “a year ago we had 2 immigrants coming in our door; now we have 30; just let people know how massive the numbers are.”

Infrastructure – This is too big a problem for grant money: “the state needs to build its infrastructure; this problem is not going away.”

A website of resources:  where can one find out about services to help?  Where is there basic information?

Housing: we need more units, and affordable ones; we need housing for even those who do not qualify for typical subsidies as they have no SSN, no credit history, etc. 

“Without housing there is no stability; without stability there can be no jobs, no medical care, no schooling, no connection to the community,” Katie Wells, UVM.

“Everything flows from housing”  Dorothy Robinson, social worker.

People participating in a meeting.Schools – urgent needs at many levels:

    • School-Family Liaison (a cultural broker) in each impacted school: Often schools are the first contact. Need to hire school liaison (or cultural broker) for each school who would bridge between incoming family and school, and family and community (community including food shelf, clinic, social connections, where soccer game is, etc.). The condition of the whole child impacts his/her learning so need to monitor whether family has housing, gets food, etc. Would help register for school, do intake on family needs, help with problems, try to create bridge to community instead of living in isolation. This would allow teachers to teach.” Kelly Saphier, ELL Teacher.
      • A cultural educator: “we teachers need education in how to deal with children and parents from such different backgrounds.”
      • Referrals for Early Intervention/ Head Start: an investment in the children’s later success. 
        • Many of these children and their parents have been through trauma, isolation: developmental delays are not uncommon.”
      • Afterschool care, weekend care, vacation and holiday care, regular daycare for the little ones: covering all the times these parents are working. Currently, they cannot pay for this care or access subsidies.
      • Better college access: new arrivals have no access to college scholarships or loans because they have neither tax or credit records.  What could be the work-around?
      • More opportunities for Adult English classes on off hours

Universal standardized forms: One form on file that would serve many purposes, across activities and districts.  If we had one form, it could be translated into other languages, too.

    • “It takes one hour per form and there are many forms for each child: one for the nurse, one for after school programs, etc., and multiply that times many families.” Laura Butterfield, ELL Teacher.

Phone Communication: put a cell phone in the office that allows communication by WhatsApp;

    • families are not paying for other phone coverage or for email,
    • texting is common, and can be translated easily with an app; oral communications cannot.

People talking in a meeting.Healthcare: essential, often neglected for a long time. If unaffordable, people still won’t access. Or, if worried about legal status, they still will not access.

More primary care physicians: right now primary care physicians are underpaid, overworked, and leaving.

Expansion of the Immigrant Health Insurance Plan (IHIP) to cover more than children and pregnant mothers. We need universal Medicaid.

Communication: HIPPA prevents any communication from clinic except by phone, yet most of this population only has WhatsApp numbers, inaccessible by a regular phone line.  A single cell phone in the clinic office might allow texting reminders about appointments.  Texting can be translated by the recipient, too.

    • One universal form, translated into the appropriate language (see above),
    • The Vermont Language Justice Project offers videos in Spanish and other languages, that help explain everything from Halloween to medical concerns.

Regular Nutrition: statewide WIC labeling on eligible products would help; appealing to grocery store liaison at the state level as an avenue for this.

People participating in a meetingCVRAN thanks all the service providers who participated in this important session. Their input is being combined with input from CASAN (Chittenden Asylum Seekers Action Network) and BR2 (Bridges to Rutland) events, as well as interviews with representatives of other groups. The next step is to select the most important issues for advocacy and education and the best means to accomplish our goals. Identifying barriers is the first step to resolving them. Many are eager to help once they know what needs changing.